Seoul, Palm Springs, Cannes, New York… Cambridge. For those that have done every single one of the resort shows in May, they will have come away with a smorgasbord of visuals and tripped-out venues. Those first four locations were commandeered by the major houses but last night, a very small group of journalists found ourselves taking the train from Kings Cross up to Cambridge to go and see J.W. Anderson’s resort collection. No, it wasn’t a show. It wasn’t even a super formal presentation.
Instead we were invited to admire and enthuse about Kettle’s Yard, the converted cottages of Tate curator Jim Ede, established in the 1920s and now part of Cambridge University. It houses Ede’s personal collection of 20th century art and artefacts including a large collection of Ben Nicolson paintings in a wonderfully naturalistic setting that constitutes neither a gallery or a museum. Kettle’s Yard is about to close this month to undergo a two year refurbishment and so Anderson took this last opportunity to take us all up for a resort showing that is about as starkly different from the razz-ma-razz shows of Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior as it can be.
Pieces from the collection are embedded in amongst the rooms of Kettle’s Yard as though they have always been there. Anderson asserted that there wasn’t necessarily a connection between the collection and the artwork of Kettle’s Yard nor is he trying to liken his work to the art here, but the takeaway is clear. When fashion designers connect themselves with the art world, it’s normally to imbue themselves with intellect and a world that goes beyond just clothes. But here, Anderson is instead situating his work in amongst art so that they feel as lived-in as the pieces that you see walking around Kettle’s Yard. Or at least that’s the hope. His silver buckled shoes or hand-shaped wristlet sit on Arts and Craft furniture or next to a Constantin Brancusi metallic sculpture. His models in denim and dotty utility-laden skirt suits and frill-seeking knee high boots wafted by a much-played Steinway piano and a Frank Auberbach. His rainbow striped knits and William Morris-esque floral prints on deconstructed dresses hang next to introspective self portrait by Christopher Wood or a Buddha statue. The artworks collected by Ede and arranged specifically in these connected cottages were meant to feel like they had lived a life. They’re not accompanied by stuffy captions nor are they organised in chronological fashion. The artwork here is part of a way of life (incidentally, that’s the title of the book about Kettle’s Yard) where Ede’s collection of Italo Valenti, Alfred Wallis, Miro and Nicholson paintings sit beside a very old Moorish clay pot, Pagan-esque arranged pebbles on a table, or a lemon placed on a pewter dish.
This art environment isn’t about commerce, nor is it about being “edgy”. And so Anderson cleverly frames his clothes in the same context. They will wear better as time goes on. They feel special whilst being continually functional at the same time. It’s why my John Allen x J.W. Anderson tapestry top has a faint ketchup stain and I’ll still wear it. It’s why my J.W. Anderson white platform hobby shoes are scuffed to death and I’m still pounding about in them. We weren’t here just to look at lovely things. We’re here to take in another aspect to Anderson’s universe, one he has so adeptly built up over the years, and he’s doing the same thing at Loewe. Anderson paints a specific lifestyle where perfectly looked-after indoor plants, 18th century rustic features and early 20th century impressionistic brushstrokes of bucolic landscapes go hand in hand with space-age graphic patches, tool box brooches and abstracted dots. But like Kettle’s Yard itself, Anderson is exacting in his randomness.